n the Spring of 1964, I was the only Freshman at Harvard who looked like a beatnik and didn't buy a SNCC button. All the blonde suburban Radcliffe chicks who spent their summer in Mississippi thought my lack of support for the movement was terrible. They also thought that Stokely Carmichael was terrible, but they didn't know it. Stokely knew it, and one day a little over a year ago, he proved it by looking them square in the eye and saying "Black Power, baby, that's where it's at, Black Power." Scared 'em half to death. Visions of niggers ran through their heads. Guns. Blood. Liberals fell away, hurt, clutching their pride, saying "How could you do this after we've been so good to you?" and the little blonde SNCC chicks got married and went back to the suburbs. But Stokely Carmichael is still going around saying Black Power and encouraging Black unity and getting people together and getting them to work.
June 25 he spoke to about two thousand Black people in Franklin Park in Boston. The gathering was sponsored by the Roxbury People's Movement (RPM), an organization which is trying to give form and an ideology to the spirit and the anger of the riots which followed the Grove Hall incident, June 2 (See the Avatar, no. 2). The first speakers, including the Reverend Virgil Woods, who set off the graduation ceremony disturbance last year which involved Louise Day Hicks, and Mrs. Landrum, spokesman for the MAW's, set the tone of black discontent. The people who run the shops don't live in the community, they sell cheap goods at high prices and run back to the suburbs with the profits. We don't want just wages and we don't want just welfare, they said, we want to share the profits of the community and we want to share in running the community. It was a good and a strong build-up to Carmichael's speech.
"In the United States," he said, "there's more regard for property rights than for human rights. If the black man is going to have any political power, he must have land." What was the plan? Buy black. Boycott white merchants who live outside the ghetto and take their profit there. Violence if necessary. ("If he knows bricks are gonna bust his windows every weekend, he's NOT gonna stay.) If the people have property, the people can get political power. To do it you have to get together and work for it, he said. "But there's another thing" he said, "and it's just as important. There's a war going on, and our young people, the people who are going to make the changes, they're being taken off to fight. Now every time the United States goes and invades another country, they say it's to stop Communism. But in Italy, they've got a big number of Communists with a lot of influence and the U.S. doesn't go over and fight them. And Yugoslavia, Tito says openly he's a Communist and they don't invade Yugoslavia, they give 'em foreign aid, and France has a lot of Communists but they don't go invade France. Why? Because they're White!"
"That's right!" yelled the crowd.
"The only places they invade to stop Communism are Viet Nam and Santo Domingo, places where they have non-white peoples. So I want you to go home and put on the record by the Staples Singers and I want you to listen to a song called 'Why Am I Treated So Bad?' and after you listen to that song, you're gonna say 'Why AM I treated so bad?' You're gonna say 'What did my grandfather do to YOU, baby, that I am treated so bad.' And there's another thing I want you to do, and that's to follow the example of Muhammed Ali, who's goin' to jail for five years because he won't go over and fight those colored people in Viet Nam. Let me hear you say it now, let me hear you say that you'll go to jail before you'll fight your brothers in Viet Nam."
"Hell no, we won't go! Hell no, we won't go!" the crowd chanted and the rain began to fall more heavily, the faces, young and full of spirit, stayed, on and chanted, stayed on until they had said it enough before they left in the pouring rain.
Stokely Carmichael is a leader. He is only saying what every leader in history has said. He's saying that if you want it you have to go to work and get it. You can't wait for somebody to clean the ghettoes, you've got to do it yourself. If you think you're treated bad, go out and make it for yourself, go out and build what it is that you want. And it's a sacrifice for him. He's young enough and smart enough that he could just pass and go to college and settle down and become a wealthy, middle-class white spade. That's if he was out for himself, but he's out for his people. He's going to jail for them and he's building organization for them. And he's leading with more guts than any popular leader today. Each move he makes, he goes from what is secure to what he can't know about. He knew that all the white liberal support would fall away when he first said Black Power. Yet he knew that the movement could not grow without taking that risk. At that moment, he could not have known that what he was doing was going to unify more strongly the black movement, he could only have faith. But he was enough of a leader and enough of a man to be that big and to have that courage. And it's working. It's working in Roxbury and it's working all across the nation. The black man is coming together.
Wayne M. Hansen